On 4 July 2020, cinemas are going to reopen across the country, but the experience won’t be exactly the same as we remember it.
With the new social distancing measures in place, going to the pictures will now involve more rules and regulations to operate safely. In fact, both Vue and Cineworld have made the decision to not reopen until 31 July 2020 to try and pass new safety measurements such as making masks mandatory for both customers and staff.
Keeping all these things in mind, is it even worth going to the cinema at all yet? And if not, what’s the alternative? Let’s find out.
Cinema experience with social distancing
The first thing to keep in mind is that not all cinemas will open on 4 July. Showcase, Odeon and Everyman will all be opening a small selection of their branches, with further cinemas opening over the coming weeks. Meanwhile Picturehouse will open some locations on 10 July, with Curzon, Vue and Cineworld opening even later in the month. Check to see if your local is open before planning your trip.
Next, think about what blockbusters you desperately want to see. The biggest movie coming out is Tenet from Christopher Nolan, set to arrive on 12 August 2020 at the time of writing. After that is the live-action remake of Mulan, which is currently penned in for 21 August 2020. Of course, depending on how the situation pans out, these dates could be pushed back again.
Once you’ve got your film and date in mind, now think about the experience as a whole. The UK Cinema Association has released a set of guidelines relating to government instructions to keep the possibility of virus transmissions within cinemas down.
Most chains will only allow people to book seats that leave gaps between other groups on the online system, so fewer tickets will be available for each screening. Film times will also be staggered to avoid physical congestion and allow time for thorough cleaning, so there will be less choice of times. Queuing may also have to take place outside the building, with the one-metre rule in place.
Food and drink will still be available to purchase, but things like pick ‘n’ mix stands will be abolished, and as is the case in shops, contactless payment will be required. Toilets should be open for public use, and will be stocked with hand sanitiser and guides for washing thoroughly. Some chains will also be providing PPE for the staff.
If you’d still like the going-out cinema experience without all of this hassle, there are a number of drive-in cinemas to check out. These include Luna Cinema and At the Drive-in - iNews has compiled a list of other regional ones to check out.
To sum up, these are the key things to keep in mind for going to cinema:
- Not everything opens on 4 July - check your local cinema
- Online booking in advance will likely be necessary
- Outside queuing may be required
- Food, drink and toilet facilities should be available, but contactless payment will be needed
How to set up a home cinema
If all that sounds a bit stressful, then perhaps it's worth considering setting up - or upgrading - your own home cinema. Some films have actually moved to streaming/rental releases during lockdown, including Artemis Fowl on Disney+ and the early digital release of Onward from Pixar, so you don’t even need to resign yourself to watching old releases on Netflix.
But if you want to recreate a cinematic atmosphere, then you’ll need the tech and accessories to go with it. There are two main options: TV or projector, with the latter offering the huge screen sizes that you just can't get from a TV.
Level up your TV game
For those who want a minimal spend (or already have a decent TV) then you can get that cinema feel by adding a separate sound system.
The cheap option is a Bluetooth speaker such as the Bose SoundLink Revolve or a soundbar such as the Denon DHT-S516H, which is more expensive but offers better sound quality and a variety of connectivity options. Just make sure your TV can connect to a Bluetooth speaker or that your speaker has a suitable wired input first.
Some sound bars can recreate surround sound, but for the best experience you'll want an actual surround-sound system. These come in various configurations, but commonly 5.1 or 7.1 - that's 5 or 7 'satellite' speakers and one subwoofer for bass. We have more information on how to set up surround sound here.
If you happen to be invested in a smart home ecosystem, then you might be able to use your smart speakers to create a home theatre setup. Amazon Fire devices actually have a dedicated option just for this.
If you really want high-end audio, then look at investing in a Dolby Atmos sound system, which is one of the newest types of surround sound. Some of the biggest cinemas in the UK use Dolby Atmos, including Empire Leicester Square and Curzon Bloomsbury. Obviously, a home speaker set isn't going to match a cinema one costing 100 times more, but they are still very immersive.
If you're unhappy with your current TV, you can use this as an excuse to upgrade and maybe get a larger screen. It's hard to find one that doesn't offer 4K resolution, so even if you don't particularly want Ultra HD, that's what you'll get.
These TVs can, of course, still display Full HD video, from Blu-rays, broadcast TV and streaming services but offer the best detail when you feed them 4K content, either from Ultra HD discs, YouTube, Netflix (or rivals) or - if you're lucky enough to have it - live TV in 4K.
We have a roundup of the best TVs that you can check out, along with the buying advice to know when it comes to what specs you should be looking for.
At the top of our list is the Samsung Q80T, which delivers fantastic image quality and has impressive built-in sound (which also supports Dolby Atmos). It comes in a range of sizes, all the way up to a whopping 85in.
Finally, you’ll need a source for your movies. Smart TVs usually come with streaming apps pre-installed (though you’ll still need a subscription for the one you want), but if you don’t have that you can still get hold of them via a streaming stick from the likes or Roku or Amazon, or even by connecting your games console to your TV.
Get a projector for a huge screen like the cinema
If you want to get even more authentic by creating a bigger image than you can get on a TV, then you could invest in a projector as an alternative to your standard TV.
You’ll need a wall or some other surface that you can successfully beam your movie onto (white is the best colour but you can also project onto magnolia or other light colours). You can invest in a white projector screen, which retracts into a case like a roller blind. You could even use a white bed sheet - something that can work particularly well if you’re wanting to set up an outdoor cinema in your garden.
The type of projector you get will all depend on your budget. These days you can buy LED projectors which are much smaller than traditional models and often come with built-in batteries and an Android-based operating system which can play videos without needing you to hook up a laptop. This makes them all-in-one devices that you can use anywhere and quickly clear away once you've finished watching a film.
If you want 4K picture quality (which really makes a difference when you're projecting a 100in or bigger image) then we recommend taking a look at the Optoma UHD300X. If however you’re on a budget and don’t mind forgoing 4K, then Vankyo sell projectors for under £200. Check out our reviews of the Optoma UHD300X and the Vankyo Leisure 510.
If your chosen projector can't play videos from a USB stick or SD card, you'll need to provide some other video source such as a DVD player or laptop. An HDMI cable is virtually all you need. For more detail, here's how to duplicate your screen onto another monitor or projector.
You should still be able to get good sound by connecting your speakers to your laptop or DVD player.
The best thing about the home cinema is that you’ll save money on popcorn, sweets and drinks by getting them from your local shop rather than paying the inflated prices at cinemas. Plus, you can pause the film whenever you like.
The key things to keep in mind for setting up your home cinema are:
- Decide on whether you want to upgrade your TV, or go for a projector - think about the space you have in your living room
- The setup could be pricey, but worth it in the long term
- Some new films are getting streaming service releases in the wake of COVID-19
- Home comforts make the movie experience a lot more stress-free
So do I go to the cinema, or invest in my own home theatre?
Well, that all depends on your finances and personal preferences on what’s getting a cinematic release over the next few months.
Setting up a home entertainment system with all the bells and whistles will set you back a pretty penny, there’s no denying that. However, the setup won’t just deliver as a home cinema. You can use it for gaming, parties, or even just catching up on your guilty TV pleasures like Location, Location, Location (don’t judge this author).
Of course, you don’t have to go for the biggest TV out there, or a £1,000 projector. Perhaps investing in some small additional enhancements whilst social distancing is still required will tide you over until movie releases are back on. Even just getting an inexpensive Bluetooth speaker or cheap soundbar like this compact one from JVC will cost you the equivalent of two cinema tickets in London (four cinema tickets for those of you up North, you lucky lot).
The majority of 2020’s biggest films are currently scheduled to come out after September anyway - including No Time to Die, Black Widow and Wonder Woman 1984. Then who knows, in autumn maybe the cinema going experience may be a little more relaxed… we hope.